Business continuity during COVID-19 – Sopheon customers tell their stories

COVID-19 is more responsible for companies quickly changing and modifying how they conduct business than any other circumstance or disruption in recent memory.

During a live panel discussion, Sopheon customers Hain Celestial, Entegris and Arçelik shared their stories on how they continue with business and manage the consequences of the pandemic within their organizations.

By accommodating a new working environment, what is working and what is not?

Jeff George, Senior Vice President, R&D, Hain Celestial Group:

“Hain is in a position of being a critical supplier. We are a healthy food, beverage and personal care products company. The demand for our products has been extraordinary and the pressure it's placed on our way of working has also been extraordinary for us. … A lot of business was done face-to-face … and that had to change overnight. Thankfully, it did, in that we were able to upgrade our IT tools, including using MS Teams which has worked quite well for us. And we went to a culture where we did not work well remotely to one where we are working exceptionally well.”

“So, one thing that's working … is how rapidly we were able to pivot to be a much more effective work remote company.”

“One thing that is not working, that we still struggle with is innovation. A lot of our innovation is done at our manufacturing facilities and at our co-manufacturing partners. It requires ingredients, it requires materials, it requires our folks to travel to do that work, and it requires consumers for us to test our products on. All those things have become challenging. … We have been required to come up with a lot of creative solutions to find ways to continue to advance innovation projects during a period where there are so many barriers to being able to do that.”

Dr. Cemil Inan, Director of Product Management, Arçelik Group:

“I would have never guessed that everyone in the company can easily go digital in one day. Under the latest specific conditions, I observed all the people in the company had a mindset shift to digital daily work. Everybody got adjusted. … The factories in my company, however, are still open because we are producing home appliances and people need them, even when stuck at home. And beyond that, we need to provide aftersales service to the people who need it immediately to keep making their life easier at home. Therefore, there are different dynamics in the company. Some work at home, some work in the field, some work in the production line. Alignment of all these groups are the challenging part for our company.”

Dr. Steve Moskowitz, Innovation Management & Digital Innovation, Office of CTO, Entegris:

“We were able to quickly respond, not only through Asia, but as it expanded to the U.S. Putting in-place “work from home” [mandates], split shifts, putting in advanced safety within our factories; That part was relatively straightforward. From an innovation perspective, since we are part of the semiconductor and life sciences world, we are considered essential. We had to keep our laboratories up and running; not just manufacturing, but laboratories. Figuring out that balance for essential workers on the R&D side was a challenge. Making sure you have that social distancing in the laboratory. So not having three or four people in the lab together, but maybe one at a time.”

What have you learned with this new way of working?

Steve Moskowitz:

“We have learned a couple of things. Regarding remote collaboration, we have quickly seen people adopt video. We had a lot more face-to-face interaction that way. The other thing is the chatroom. People can post questions. We are finding people using that a lot more than we ever did before, and it really replaces those side conversations that seem to happen in meetings.”

“The other thing we're doing is specifically for a digital transformation aspect. We have different facilities, R&D in the US and manufacturing in Taiwan or Korea, and as we introduce new technology and new products, normally folks would travel and help introduce that product. We are starting to introduce things like some augmented reality tools. … We are really trying to find tools …, that we maybe were piloting slowly before, and we have accelerated the introduction for in response to the current situation. The biggest change is finding those new tools, and not having huge new capabilities, but looking for little things to find solutions to problems.”

How are you prioritizing your business activities and portfolios now?

Jeff George:

“When it comes to our consumers, products that provide for the need of safety, security, feeling calm, and the desire to have benefits like immunity and protection are in very high demand today. … We've also seen an exceptional shift of consumers, especially in food. They are now buying online, ordering online to be delivered, ordering online to be picked up, ordering takeout food, significant meal occasions moving to home from restaurants and other places that are no longer available, so the shift has been in wholesale.”

“Our number one focus is the safety of our employees and business continuity, keeping in business so we can supply these critical products. But we are also trying to carve out the share of our minds to think about what the world is going to look like in the future.”

Cemil Inan:

“The number one priority is the health and safety of our people; we are putting this on top of everything. Just after this comes job security. We must keep our people in the business. … Every company puts their efforts into keeping their products …, unfortunately and honestly, we could not propose a real customer value, but now we have the opportunity and need. Let me give you an example: The refrigerator is vital at home, and without a refrigerator, food safety is not possible. However, if the refrigerator breaks down, if there is anything wrong with the refrigerator, people need help immediately, maybe from distant locations, not coming to a home because they don't want you to go there. This creates a new area to work on for R&Ds. First, to have consumers through connectivity abroad. Second, teach or educate users to fix things themselves. That becomes their real needs, and therefore I expect a big acceleration on that area to adapt.”

“We apply some rules of prioritization. Number one is people safety and health. Beyond that, urgent issues, mandatory issues, and nice-to-haves. We have these three categories to make decisions accordingly. It helped a lot because the urgent issues are the vital issues, and these can change daily. There is no strict prioritization on these urgent issues. Teamwork is vital here.”

Steve Moskowitz:

“What we do on a regular basis is go look at our portfolio, and we are actually doing that over the next couple of weeks, to see where our priorities are. The biggest challenge we are seeing is staffing our factories as some staff members work from home. Trying to prioritize is critical. From an innovation perspective our CEO has really made it clear that we get out of this challenge. He views it as a racer, a race car or ski racer, we're going into this curve, slowing down, we're unsure what's going to happen, but we need to be able to accelerate out of that curve, right. We need to be in a position when we get out of this challenge, out of this crisis, to be able to move quickly.”

We are making sure our organization is nimble enough. We are trying to remove barriers that prevent us from moving quickly. That way, as we get through this time, we can continue to move quickly with decisions. Not just as we manage today, but as we manage tomorrow.”

How are your innovation approaches and processes modified today?

Jeff George:

“We are fortunate that we are already in the journey of creating a more flexible, agile innovation process and development culture. There is another part, though, that's actually challenging. … At Hain, we have adopted what we would consider an “agile innovation” process. Very much inspired by private equity, venture capital, almost a “Shark Tank” kind of model. We have certain businesses that we've designated as growth businesses, get better business, get bigger. And the teams there have weekly access to the senior leadership of the company.”

“Our innovation is not quarterly, it is not monthly. We actually do innovation meetings every single week where these teams and these businesses can come in to our senior leaders serving as a Shark Tank-type growth board and present their ideas for game changes, for fast decisions, for funding, and for guidance. And we had that in place already. We already had a very connected senior leadership team, and we had empowered project teams that were driving their projects forward. When we had gone to a virtual environment, it actually worked to our advantage.”

“One linchpin of agile development is the close connection with consumers and co-creating and co-developing new products with consumers. We interact with consumers every week, sometimes multiple times per week, working with them to help develop the concepts and products that we develop while person-to-person consumer access is no longer possible in this kind of environment. We have had to pivot and one change that we've made, fortunately, is we had developed a virtual consumer community.”

“We've been reaching out to them on a regular basis to talk about ideas, to talk about white space opportunities, to share concepts with them. And even over the last couple of weeks, we're figuring out how we can get products sent to their homes so they can actually test them, taste them, give us feedback, and then connect with them the same way we're connecting with you today, to hear firsthand what they think about our products. The situation has driven innovative approaches on how we reach out and how we stay connected with consumers, because ultimately that is going to drive the success of our offerings or not.”

Steve Moskowitz:

“From an innovation perspective, we have been starting to play with agile a little bit. A lot of our project teams are already distributed, so we have not seen a huge change there.”

The two big things we are seeing are a shift in our meetings, so gate meetings, team meetings, portfolio meetings… We have seen a nice shift, with everybody being virtual, that it is a much more democratized conversation. Everybody is more engaged; everybody is more involved.”

“The other thing we're starting to do now is look more and more at how do we do more experiments, more work virtually, so really ramping up our modeling and simulation capabilities doing things, computational chemistries, doing more statistic modeling of process improvements before we actually try them on the line.”

How do you feel about agile innovation and where does it go in the future?

Cemil Inan:

“In my company, my culture, agility, and agile teams are becoming more and more important, and there is a cultural change in the company. As a global company, we are already used to working with different cultures. However, agility is something different than the quick decision making. The young generation is needed. They love to be in agile teams, to act fast without asking anyone, and then own the credit together. Therefore, agility means letting this generation prove themselves to the company.”

“Innovation means a problem needs to be solved, and the insight should come from the consumer in our case. We need to listen to the consumer in a better way, either virtually, either face-to-face, either through data analysis, whatever it is. But you need to understand consumer needs. Then everything becomes easier than the set agile teams.”

“I also believe in project discipline in the companies. Making everything agile creates a chaotic environment. Of course, the result is quicker, however, we need a more disciplined phase for every innovation stage. So, I go for a hybrid solution.”

What can you see today that you feel will be part of the new norm?

Cemil Inan:

“Obviously, there is an important need to correct something. During this crisis, we already noticed it, in my business especially: we need to produce products in a more sustainable way. Starting from the method that we choose, the energy consumption, water consumption, detergent consumption or even microfiber elimination during the washing becomes an issue. From now on, sustainability will be more important than ever. It will be key for every industry to focus on.”

A note added

Cemil Inan:

“For companies, the big learning is that we are not only responsible for our business, but we are responsible for the communities that we serve. During this crisis, most of the companies started to help people in need. That is the most important thing, helping the community, and I think it will continue in the future too.”

“My company reserves some R&D forces to produce ventilations for patients.”  

Are you interested in listening to the whole discussion? Click here to watch the recorded webinar.

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